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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Thursday, April 19, 2018

When Siblings Develop Learned Behaviors



A child who lives in a trauma family will develop learned behavior as coping mechanism in order to survive in a chaotic situation.

We know that a traumatized child exhibits negative behavior due to his experiences, and as a result, we are more prone to show them grace. Grace becomes a little harder to dish out when previously healthy siblings begin using their siblings trauma behavior to cope with the daily rages, destruction, and verbal/physical abuse dished out by these children.

It is uncanny how younger siblings will take on the same body language and voice inflections, as well as using the same wording that their older siblings use when they are melting down or raging.

Things get complicated when you don't discipline your older child for acting in such a way, because you know he is acting in such a manner due to the pain/trauma he experienced; while the the other child is acting out because he see's his siblings doing so and in his eyes, getting away with it. This of course, seems very unfair to the younger child.

To complicate things, the older child will naturally egg the younger child on until he acts out, then step back and watch the fall out, which is typical trauma behavior. The younger child feels as if he is being treated unfairly because he gets consequences for an action when his sibling doesn't.

This phenomenon was causing no end of friction in our family. Sibling relationships were falling apart, child/parent relationships were suffering, and I hated going away because others could easily see what was happening, but since they weren't aware of the dynamics behind it all, opinions were being formed and things were getting sticky. 

I did what I usually do when I get in over my head, I emailed my friend and said, "HELP, what do we do? How do we handle this situation so that the trauma child cannot continue to manipulate relationships, and our other children do not feel as though they being are picked on when they receive consequences for the same actions their sibling, "gets away with?" As usual she had excellent advice, "First our children have to realize that their traumatized sibling has a much smaller world, meaning fewer privileges." For safety reasons some children need to be in line of sight all the time, some need to ask permission before participating in certain activities, some may not use a scissors....there are a multitude of things where a trauma child needs supervision whereas a healthy child has the ability to make choices for himself.  She continued, "Remind your children that while _______________ may not get a consequence for certain behaviors, while you do, they live in a small world. Which would you rather have?" This was brilliant because I knew all our children would agree that following the rules and having freedom is much more appealing than "getting away with" acting out and having a small world!

This can be hard to remember in the heat of the moment when your child throws a fit in public, using the same words and actions as his traumatized sibling or stomps off in a huff, slamming the door and destroying things as he goes. As a parent, I get so weary of dealing with this sort of thing. Sometimes I want to lash out at my trauma child, other times I am angry with the child who is using all the learned behaviors in his arsenal. I want to cry, "God it is hard enough dealing with these behaviors in my severely traumatized child, now I also have to deal with this learned behavior, which is even more frustrating!!!!"

So if learned behavior is pushing you to the edge of your sanity, know one thing, you aren't the only one!

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Friday, April 13, 2018

When Oppositional Defiant Disorder Is Really FASD


Our son was 5 years old when he first received a diagnosis of ODD (Oppositional Defiant, Disorder). For all intents and purposes, he appeared very defiant. I remember telling the psychiatrist, "He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He has no respect for authority, and consequence's make no difference in his behavior." It wasn't until Braden was diagnosed with FASD, and I started researching it, that I grew increasingly suspicious that Joseph had it as well. The boys are 11 months apart in age, and their birth moms living situation/stressor's hadn't changed in that period of time, making it highly probable that Joseph was affected as well.

In the past 5 years we have learned that short term memory deficit's, auditory processing disorder, world perception and lack of cause and effect, among other things, are the main issue's behind his struggle to follow direction's and obey command's. These are all symptoms of FASD, all symptoms of brain damage, not necessarily ODD.

When we give Joseph a command, it takes him several seconds to process the command and follow through with it. We have learned we need to be patient, because if we jump on him for not listening, he forgets what we originally told him to do and melts down because, "You are mad at me!"

We have also learned that what he hears, isn't necessarily what was spoken. If I tell him to put the milk on the table, he is just as likely to get the juice. Many children with attachment disorder will intentionally fail to follow direction's as means of controlling their circumstances. This is something we dealt with on a daily basis, and we used to think Joseph was doing the same thing, until we learned that processing disorders are common among people with FASD.

Joseph doesn't respond well to consequences which caused him and us no end of grief. If he was supposed to stay on the driveway to ride his bike, without fail he drove through the yard. Warnings, consequences, nothing helped. After having his bike "impounded," he would promptly drive it through the grass again, then have a spectacular tantrum when we insisted he park his bike again. He didn't associate having to park his bike with driving through the yard, no matter how many times we explained. 

Joseph's meltdowns can be something to behold! We used to get very frustrated when he would lay on the floor kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs. His face turned red, as tears and sweat poured down his face. In our opinion, it was total overkill. Then we learned about over stimulation and sensory overload. We learned that trying to reason with him or distract him only made matters worse. Threatening sent him into an uncontrollable rage and he would literally scream for hours. 

Looking back, it is easy to see the many mistakes we made in parenting our son. So many times we only made matters worse because we didn't know what we were dealing with. 

Here are some posts I wrote about our journey thus far:

When Your Child Has Been Diagnosed With FASD 

Parenting Accordingly - Life With FASD

Dysmaturity Extending The Toddler Years

No Boundaries - Living With FASD

10 Tips For Caring For Someone With FASD

What Is It Like To Parent A Child With FASD


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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How A Traumatized Child Can Create A Trauma Family

Most people never dreamed how insidious trauma could be, until they took on the responsibility of parenting little people who had experienced extreme amounts of pain, both physically and emotionally in their short life time. You may have considered yourself a strong, emotionally stable parent, until one day you woke up and discovered your reaction to your child's trauma behavior's, showed that you too, had become a victim of trauma. You wonder how did this happen? I only wanted to help my child heal, now I fear I am adding to the problem.

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A child born into a loving, emotionally secure family will view the world, and the people who inhabit his world as safe. He knows that everyone loves him and wants what is best for him. During the first year of his life, he has had his needs consistently met which further cements the foundation of trust. 

The child who does not have his needs consistently met becomes fearful, and quickly gets the message that crying will not ensure that he is fed, nurtured or changed into warm, dry clothing. He learns that people in charge cannot be trusted. If he cries mom may slap him, shake him, or ignore him, so he stops crying.

These children learn that no one else can be trusted to meet their needs. They feel alone. They also realize there are some things they cannot do for themselves, so they seek to get those needs met via those with whom they have no ongoing emotional connection. They use many technique's including:
- Manipulation
- Triangulation
- Rage
- Being extra sweet

 These children learn at an early age to read people, and as a result, are nearly always successful when choosing whom to target next, while the adult whom they are  "using" is totally unaware anything has happened. The more opportunities a child has to use his chosen technique's, the "sicker" he will become. A good trauma parent know's this so will do his best to prevent these interactions from taking place. The child, because his brain is conditioned to continually read people, will automatically know that his parent is actively blocking his attempts at manipulating others, thus becoming even sneakier. Mom, in her desire to see her child healed of his attachment issue's and successfully bond with her, become's more vigilant. A battle of wits ensue's which leaves everyone exhausted.

Many children lash out verbally. While trauma parents know these words are coming from their child due to the pain he has inside, it is still very hard to remain objective when your child screams, "I hate you! You are the worst mom/dad ever!" Or, "Why did you adopt me, you ruined my life!" As a parent who's desire is to see your child happy, this can be devastating to hear, eventually you can begin to subconsciously believe the words your child is hurling at you. In a moment of weakness, you open your mouth and say things you never dreamed would come from your lips. If you aren't very careful, the verbal attacks between you and your child can seriously escalate. Before you know it, you sound just like your traumatized child, and in reality you are very similar because you are both responding from the hurt deep within.

Self sabotage was a big one in our home for many years. Deep down many of our children feel like there must be something wrong with them because they are adopted. They are too young to understand things like addiction, abuse, and neglect. They cannot understand how those things affect a persons ability to consistently care for their child. Instead, they think they must be bad people, or as one child recently said, "I shouldn't have cried so much, then my mom would still have me!" When our children experience something fun, or receive praise, it goes against this inner belief so they often act out. If, say, one of our children earns a treat, there is a very good chance he will act dreadfully prior to receiving his treat because he is so uncomfortable with the good feeling inside. Other times, they feel that since they are bad, they don't deserve anything good and will act out to prove their point. Parents can quickly fall into the trap of having the same mindset as their child and treating him accordingly.

Then there is learned behavior, something I despise! When you have a child who is acting out, especially if he is one of the older children in your family, the younger children will quickly take on his coping technique's. Be it raging, whining, manipulating or stealing, younger sibling's will have it down to a science. In our home they even have the same voice inflections and mannerism's. When this happen's it is easy for the parent to become frustrated and dish out consequence's to all involved. Which, by the way, doesn't work.

These are just a few of the behavior's children with trauma employ. If I am honest, they are among the milder one's, as the more severe behavior's are not one's to share on a public blog! A family can quickly take on his child's coping technique's in order to cope with the behaviors being hurled their way. This of course snowball's as it makes the trauma child more fearful, so he ups his ante. The parent panic's and become's even more vigilant, and round it goes. Even if you are conscious of this phenomenon, it is amazing how subtly your child's trauma can engulf you when you are in the trenches day after day.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

The Benefits Of Homeschooling Brain Challenged Children

We are nearing the end of our first year of home school! This week we will have completed the required 40 weeks, which feels like a huge accomplishment. However, we can't hang up our school hats just yet because the children need to finish all their books in addition to getting in the 40 weeks. 

Parenting children with brain challenges means we didn't always get in a full days work. We chose to try home school because of the various brain challenges along with social and emotional challenges our children face. Getting up for school at a certain time, after they had slept poorly, meant a battle every step of the way. Ever try to get a brain challenged child to eat when he is feeling ornery and out of sorts with the world? You can't explain that he will be hungry in another hour because he lives in the here and now. He cannot think about even 5 minutes into the future. All he knows is that right now he isn't hungry and if mom insists that he eat breakfast, he will melt down. Nor can you insist he wear a coat, get dressed, take his back pack, or a host of other things. Children with FASD do not learn from their mistake's which means you can continually fight the same battle's. Children with brain inflammation simply cannot think or rationalize. They are in fight, flight, or freeze, All.The.Time.

Sometimes I could get my children out the door with relative ease, only to get a call from school. They were melting down, or worse, or something had happened and the teacher needed advice on how to handle the situation, and on it went. Toward the end of the year, I got call's nearly daily, sometimes I went to school more than once a day to intervene when a child was raging and couldn't be calmed.

Then they came home from school and everything fell apart. They had tried so hard to keep it together at school, because what child wants to fall apart in front of his peers? Nor did they feel safe at school because the teacher had a whole group of children to teach, not just our traumatized children, which meant things couldn't always remain the same. Children with trauma thrive on routine and structure. Changing the seating arrangement threw them over the edge without fail. A birthday party, program, special activity, or even extra recess was enough to send them into a panic. After doing their best to keep on top of their emotion's, they attacked the one person with whom they felt safe, mom

Our evening's were spent ironing out school trouble's, calming over stimulated children, and trying to get them relaxed enough so they could get a good nights rest, which would make getting them out the door the next morning a wee bit easier.

I was getting run down, my children didn't feel safe, and my poor husband was getting weary of phone calls from his panicked wife asking how to deal with the latest round of school problems. 

When home school came up, I originally said, "Absolutely not!" After one particularly bad day, I decided that perhaps home school wouldn't be so bad after all. God worked out several kinks that we thought were insurmountable and here we are nearly a year later, with our first school term nearly behind us.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? That is a bit harder to answer because home schooling traumatized, brain challenged children is NOT a walk in the park, but the rewards are huge.

Joseph is better emotionally than he has ever been. If he is over stimulated or emotionally unstable, I cut his lessons short or give him the day off. This gives his brain a chance to regroup and refocus rather than forcing him to try to do work and pushing him into further dysregulation.

On the days when brain inflammation is over the top, we don't do school either. My daughter loses what she has learned when she get's PANS flairs and no amount of explaining helps. You have to wait until the inflammation subsides and go from there.

Another big asset was that we could tailor each subject for each child. In some subjects such as math and English, our children were behind their grade level, while in other subjects they were ahead. In the typical classroom setting it isn't always feasible to tailor subject's for each child, especially when your children attend a private school.

So all in all, I would say home school is exactly what our children need. We can adjust the schedule to their daily ability to focus which means they are at least a tiny bit more agreeable. I keep our days low key, or boring as some of my children call it, which enable's them to use their brain power for studies versus using it to cope with other stressors. They are doing lesson's that challenge them but do not overwhelm them and we go over each new concept until they have mastered it.


Dean and Lia playing Go Fish with the alphabet cards.

Dean explaining a math lesson to Joseph.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Grief Is Love With No Place To Go - Living With Trauma


Someone shared this with our support group and I fell in love with it. I thought it perfectly sums up what it is like to parent children who cannot or doesn't want to be parented. 

When you adopt a child, you don't do so thinking, "Someday my child may be hurting so badly due to past trauma, that he will do his best to destroy our family."

You fully intend to love and care for him. To meet all his needs as well as supply some of his wants, just to see him smile.

You wanted to hug him close, tuck him in at night and hear him whisper, "Good night."

You dreamed of spending one on one time with him. Of building your relationship, and teaching him about Jesus.

You looked forward to passing on the treasure's you saved from your childhood. Watching him play with your old toys would be such a joy.

You wanted to shower him with love and affection, because that is what being a parent is all about.

You never dreamed that your child might not be able to handle a close relationship with you. That he might not trust you, even after he has been in your home for 10 years and always had his needs met. You didn't know some children have been hurt so badly in their short lifetime that they may not be able to function in a family setting. Who knew that some children feel safest when they are inflicting pain on others because it gives them a sense of control?

Because you love your child, you refrain from hugs, knowing that he fears physical touch.

You watch from afar as a stranger meets your child's needs because you couldn't keep him safe in your home. 

You listen as your child tells a stranger his deepest wishes because in his mind a stranger is safer than his own parents.

You watch your child make poor choices and long to help him get on the right path, but he wants nothing to do with you. 

You cry as he gets into trouble yet again, knowing the hard road he has ahead of him.

And you feel grief. Heart wrenching grief. Grief hurts. It rips deep into your heart until it feels like physical pain. As you analyze your hurt, you come to realize that what you are really feeling is loss...the loss of an opportunity to love your child in the way you always dreamed.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

When You Are A People Pleaser -Living With Trauma

I am a chronic people pleaser. I despise it and am doing my best to overcome this aspect of my personality, but deep habit's rooted in trauma are not easily over come.

I wasn't aware how ingrained my people pleasing was, until I became the parent of children with attachment disorder's of varying degree's. Suddenly I had a little person, or people as is the current case, doing their very best to show the world that their mom has some serious deficit's. Worst of all, they have super sweet charm on their side, while I play into their plan with my fumbling answer's and explanation's.

As everyone who is parenting a child with an attachment disorder is well aware of, you sometime's have rules that seem totally irrational to those outside the family. Explaining why you implement those rules doesn't help because, as one wise mom told me, "Our brain's doesn't work like that of a traumatized child so don't even try to figure out it out!" In other word's, an emotionally healthy child wouldn't need such extreme, well spelled out boundaries because their brain isn't constantly trying to come up with ways to build a barrier that will effectively keep their family from getting close and loving them. They fear love. They view love, which is the first step towards building a relationship, as serious as a death threat.

So what does this have to do with my people pleasing problem? Simply this: I want to appear competent. I want people to like me (cringe, but it's the truth) and my children's lack of attachment sets me up to fall on my nose time and time again. 

One child has well defined boundaries, and he can overstep them and still appear well behaved. He knows full well that he isn't following the rules, and as a result, he quickly becomes overstimuled if we don't step in and reinforce the boundaries. Guess what this looks like to others? Mom is picking on him, poor boy, so we will try extra hard to give him some special attention. That is where the attachment disorder pops up and hypervigilance comes into play. No one need's to say a word, the attention giver may not even be aware that they are playing this "game," but my child knows! He soaks it up and when we are once more on our own, we get to clean up the mess. Worst of all, my child has this person marked and he will always put his best foot forward in their presence and up the charm.

Another child has people charming down to a science. He would never dream of showing his true side in public. It is all smile's and grown up action's....when anyone is watching, but behind the scene's he is egging on his sibling's, then stepping back and watching them get in trouble. When mom steps in to rebuke the charmer and let's the "problem maker" off the hook, guess what it looks like? Yup, mom is being unfair and picking on one child while letting the other get away with a bad attitude. My people pleasing get's a sharp whack on the head from that one. Not that it hurt's me, but oh, how I despise it! This child is knows full well that when he does this, it makes other's think he is someone he isn't while making mom and his sibling's look bad. This is called dividing a conquering. He knows what his actions and moms response look like to others and uses that to add another layer of concrete to the wall around his heart. Most people aren't even aware that anything has happened, but my children know!

Knowing all this, one would assume that as the mom, I would do my best not to get into situations that give my children an opportunity to add to the wall around their heart. Two things come into play here: one is my people pleasing. I don't want anyone to think badly of us so I go against my better judgement and allow my children to do things that I know will probably cause problems down the road. My mentor told me I need to be more assertive, and I know she is right. I know I am not helping my children heal by allowing them to do things that I know will provide an opportunity to hone their manipulation skills.

The other problem is this, my children can, and will, use any interaction with other's to their advantage. It can be as simple as the mailman dropping off a package. My child will give him a big smile and cheery, "Hi!" The mailman will return the greeting, perhaps commenting on my child's good manner's and the damage is done. He drives off, and my child goes into his room and destroy's something. 

This happens with people who aren't strangers even more frequently because the stakes are higher. My children know if they can make mom look bad in the presence of family and friends, they will have succeeded in driving the wedge between them deeper.

I hate these interactions with a passion, so I put on my happy face (now who isn't showing true feelings????) and hunker down to weather the storm I know is coming. 

My dear friend and mentor told me I must learn to be assertive. Stand up for what my children need and bury my people pleasing tendencies. With God's help, I will do so.

Anyone else out there with this struggle? Anyone who has overcome it? If so, I would love to hear from you!

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